Ficus Whitefly a New Pest in South Florida

There is a new pest attacking ficus trees and hedges in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties, Florida. This pest was identified as the fig (ficus) whitefly, Singhiella simplex, and is a new US continental record. Whiteflies are small, winged insects that belong to the Order Hemiptera which also includes aphids, scales, mealybugs, and bugs. These insects typically feed on the underside of leaves with their “needle-like” mouthparts. Whiteflies can seriously injure host plants by sucking juices from them causing wilting, yellowing, stunting, leaf drop, or even death.

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Nutritional Problems
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  • Cranium Lillies Hibscius Plumbago
  • Gold Mound Bouganvilla Oleander
  • Podacarpes Ficus Jathropha
  • Bird of Paradise Gardenia Crotons
  • Liriope Jasmine Ginger
  • Ligustrum Xanadu Philodendrum
  • Crossandra Ixora Purple Ground Orchid
  • Pittosporum Silver Buttonwood

Ornamental Pests

  • Ficus Thrips Ficus Whitefly
  • Chili Thrips damage to plumbago causes distorted, curled leaves and defoliation.
  • Oleander Caterpillar
  • Laf Infected with Whitefly Adult Whitefly
  • Immature Whitefly
  • Leaf spot fungus
  • Dieback Fungus

Thrips are very small, elongate, cylindrical, gregarious insects ranging from 1/25 to 1/8 inch in length. The nymph are frequently pale yellow and highly active. The antennae and legs are relatively short. Adults are usually black or yellow-brown, but may have red, black or white markings and often jump when disturbed. They may have wings or may be wingless. If wings are present, they are long, narrow and fringed with hairs. For this reason, Thrips are commonly referred to as fringed-winged insects. Thrips attack an extremely wide variety of woody plants including azalea, ardisia, dogwood, gardenia, hibiscus, magnolia, maple, palm and viburnum.

Thrips feed on the foliage and flowers, as well as young tissues in shoot apexes where the leaves are expanding. They puncture the plant cells with their rasping-sucking mouthparts and withdraw cell sap. Feeding activities produce bleached, silvered or deformed leaves and necrotic spots or blotches on flower petals. Eventually the damaged foliage becomes papery, wilts and drops prematurely. Thrips produce large quantities of varnish-like excrement which collects on leaves, creating an unsightly appearance.


They are small, winged insects that belong to the Order Hemiptera which also includes aphids, scales, and mealybugs. These insects typically feed on the underside of leaves with their “needle-like” mouthparts. Whiteflies can seriously injure host plants by sucking nutrients from the plant causing wilting, yellowing, stunting, leaf drop, or even death. There are more than 75 different whiteflies reported in Florida.

Biology: The life cycle of the ficus whitefly is approximately one month. Eggs, which are usually laid on the underside of leaves, hatch into a crawler stage. The crawler which is very small wanders around the leaf until it begins to feed. From this point until it emerges as an adult, it remains in the same place on the plant. These feeding, non-mobile stages (nymphs) are usually oval, flat, and initially transparent. The early nymph stages can be very difficult to see. As the nymphs mature, they become more yellow in color, more convex, and their red eyes become more visible, making them easier to see.

Plant Damage:
The leaves of ficus trees infested with whiteflies begin to turn yellow before the leaves are dropped from the plant. Defoliation is one of the most obvious symptoms of an infestation of ficus whitefly. However, if you have defoliation, you have had the whitefly for numerous months. In addition to defoliation, there can be branch dieback. The amount of branch dieback is highly variable and is probably linked with the overall health of the plant. In most cases, trees and hedges will grow new leaves. Dead branches need to be pruned out. This whitefly has been most commonly found infesting weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) but has also been seen on several of the commonly planted ficus in the Florida landscape.

Spiraling whitefly
This new whitefly is a large, slow moving insect capable of infesting a wide range of landscape plants such as:

• gumbo limbo
• banana
• black olive
• mango
• palms
• live oak
some shrubs such as copperleaf, cocoplum and wax myrtle
• and other plants

White spirals and a build-up of a white, waxy substance on the underside of leaves. This coats the eggs and immature whiteflies. If populations build-up greatly, infested plants can become covered with the white, waxy substance. This can sometimes become weakened and also be disfigured by the black sooty mold that grows on the insect’s excrement (referred to as honeydew). The sticky honeydew can accumulate on cars, pool decks and patio furniture from infested trees overhead. Honeydew does not damage paint.
Once the insect is under control, the sooty mold and honeydew will disappear.

Pink Hibiscus Mealy bug
The pink hibiscus mealybug is expected to attack many Florida crops including citrus, avocado, carambola, fig, guava, mango, soursop, and sugarcane; vegetable crops including asparagus, beans, beets, cabbage, peanuts, pigeon pea, cucumber, lettuce, pepper, pumpkin, and tomato; forest trees, and many species of ornamental plants including Allamanda, Angelica, Anthurium, Bougainvillea, Croton, ginger lily, Heliconia, Ixora, hibiscus, palm, and oleander.
Crop production costs will be increased if growers attempt to manage mealybug populations by pesticide applications. Pesticide applications will disrupt the effective natural enemies of other crop pests, such as mites, scale insects, and whiteflies leading to the application of additional pesticides to control these pests. These additional pesticide applications can contaminate food, water and farm workers. Around the yard and home, insecticide use may also increase due to damage to ornamental plants, particularly hibiscus.
The mealybug is found on stems, leaves, buds, fruit and roots of many plants. On hibiscus, the mealybug usually infests young twigs, causing deformed terminal growth due to shortening of the internodes, deformed leaves and thickened twigs. In cotton, the growing parts are attacked, resulting in bunchy growth. Plants are stunted and produce fewer bolls of a smaller size. Boll opening is adversely affected and yield reduction occurs. In grapevines, the mealybug feeds on sprouts after pruning; heavily infested bunches shrivel and drop. In peanut, the mealybug can feed on the underground parts of the roots, pods, and pegs of the plant, resulting in stunted growth and poorly developed pods.

Asian Scale
This scale is known as cycad Aulacaspis scale, or Asian cycad scale. The family of plants affected is called cycads. This family includes king and queen sagos, cardboard palms, and coonties among others. At this point, only the sagos appear to be affected. Cardboard palms and coonties have been relatively unaffected.

The unusually dense populations and rapid spread of Asian cycad scale help confirm it is an exotic invasive and has few, if any natural enemies. This pest appears to be spread short distances by wind dispersal of crawlers and long distance by transport of infested plants. At its worst, an infestation of theAsian cycad scale can completely coat a medium-sized sago within months and kill it within a year. (Howard,1999) The scale can eventually form several layers and include a high proportion of dead insects as well as live scale insects.

Crinum Lillie’s
Crinums do have a few enemies. In some cases, crinums can be affected by red blotch fungus or crinum mosaic potyvirus, which causes yellow streaks in the leaves. Spider mites can sometimes be a problem.

Oleander Caterpillar
Its range extends from northern South America, through Central America into Mexico, and from many Caribbean islands into Florida and coastal regions of southeastern states. It is a year round inhabitant of south Florida and the Keys but is usually killed by cold winter temperatures in northern and north-central Florida only to re-colonize these areas the following spring. The original host plant is thought to be a now relatively rare beach- or pineland-inhabiting vine, Echites umbellata Jacq. However, the oleander caterpillar is thought to have switched over to feeding on oleander when the Spanish introduced this Mediterranean ornamental plant in the 17th century. Early infestation by the oleander caterpillar is easy to recognize. The young, gregariously feeding larvae turn the new oleander shoots a light brown color due to their skeletonizing feeding behavior (leaving the major and minor leaf veins untouched while eating the tissue in between). Examination of the underneath surface of these brown leaves or those leaves slightly below the damaged foliage will reveal a group of small larvae. At this stage the insect is very easy to control. If caterpillars are allowed to grow beyond the small, gregarious stage, they can inflict a lot of unsightly defoliation on the oleander unless nature or human intervention stops them. Total defoliation will not kill the plant but, if it occurs repeatedly year after year, the plant may be more susceptible to other pests such as scale insects.

Prevention and Treatment of Cold Damage

(From the University of Florida)

Part #1

Part #2